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Wilmer Flores must learn to adjust to Mets’ utility role

New York Mets shortstop Wilmer Flores waits for

New York Mets shortstop Wilmer Flores waits for the pitch in second inning of Game 4 of the NLDS at Citi Field in Queens on Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2015. Credit: Jim McIsaac

Wilmer Flores famously cried at the thought of being traded away from the Mets last summer. More than six months later, he’s been replaced at shortstop by the same team he didn’t want to leave, and must learn a new role as a piece off the bench.

Still, Flores said Thursday that he’s prepared to make the most of his new situation as the Mets’ utility player.

“It should be different,” said Flores, whose spring training will be spent learning how to bounce around the infield. “I’ve got to ask people who don’t play every day how they stay ready, how they approach it.”

Flores, 24, played primarily at shortstop last season, when he hit .263 with 16 home runs and 59 RBIs in 137 games. He was in the middle of the Mets’ sometimes uncomfortable experiment to get his bat in the lineup despite his shortcomings on defense. But with Flores sharing time with Ruben Tejada, the Mets wound up getting solid production out of the shortstop position. At 2.9 wins above replacement, Mets shortstops ranked fifth in the National League.

Still, the Mets jumped on a chance this winter to add a full-time solution in Asdrubal Cabrera, who signed a two-year deal after hitting .265 with 15 homers for the Rays.

“I was a little surprised because they didn’t give any signs,” Flores said. “But they did it for a reason and the reason was to make the team better.”

Flores has started 25 big-league games at third base, all of them in 2013. He has 48 starts at second base, with the bulk of those last year. Although he hasn’t played first base in the big leagues, he has 19 starts there in the minors.

“What’s on the table, you’ve got take it,” Flores said. “That’s it. I can’t control anything else. Just play.”

Flores shouldn’t have trouble getting at-bats around the infield.

At second base, the switch-hitting Neil Walker has fared much better against righthanded pitchers (.801 lifetime OPS) than lefthanders (.656). Flores has been more successful against lefties, especially last year, when he battered them for a .310 average, .355 on-base percentage and .600 slugging percentage with seven homers in 100 at-bats.

At third base, plenty of uncertainty looms over David Wright, who is entering his first full season since being diagnosed with spinal stenosis, a back condition that will require constant monitoring. Even if Wright avoids a lengthy stay on the disabled list, the Mets almost certainly will exercise caution, opening the door for Flores to fill in.

While Flores’ lack of range has limited him at shortstop, it won’t be as pronounced an issue at third or at second, where he appeared most comfortable last season.

“I’ve learned to play all three positions and I think that’s the main reason why I’m still here,” said Flores, who has been at the team’s Port St. Lucie, Florida, complex since Jan. 11.

After fracturing his left ankle in winter ball in December, Flores said he has resumed workouts at full strength.

“I was a little worried because I’ve never had a fracture before,” he said. “I thought it was going to take longer than that. But it’s healed. It healed really fast. I don’t know why, but like I said, I’m doing everything.”


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